Toll Rises to 135, 10,000 Food Packets Airdropped

Saibal Gupta/Tung (North Sikkim)
Toll Rises to 135, 10,000 Food Packets Airdropped
With 18 more bodies recovered in North Sikkim today, the toll in Sunday's devastating quake rose to 135 even as hundreds of people in affected remote areas moved out of their villages fearing fresh tremors and landslides.

Rescue teams airlifted 22 stranded engineers and airdropped over 10,000 food packets in the quake-hit districts.

The disaster management control room in Gangtok said 17 bodies were recovered in the district since noon while one was found in the morning.

They said rescue workers reached villages surrounding Dzongu and Chungthang on foot as roads were still blocked by landslides, making the prospect of the toll rising further likely.

Scores of survivors trekked through difficult terrain and inclement weather from Lachung, Lachen and Chungthang reaching Tung, 10 km from Chungthang, one of the worst-hit areas, and recounted how huge boulders hurtled down the hills smashing their homes and leaving many dead and injured.

Over 10,000 food packets have been airdropped in the quake-hit areas of north Sikkim as two major roads connecting the region remained blocked due to landslides after Sunday’s 6.8 magnitude earthquake.

Home Ministry officials today said another 5000 food packets are being sent to Chungthan, Lachung and Lachen.

With 18 more bodies were found under the debris in North Sikkim, the overall death toll has risen to 118 including 92 in the Himalayan state while West Bengal has reported 15 deaths, nine in Bihar, 11 in Nepal, seven in Tibet and one in Bhutan.

The number of dead in Sikkim has climbed to 74 in North District, East [13], West(4) and South (1).

Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling has convened a high-level meeting with top officials to take stock of the situation and work out measures to further intensify relief operations.

More than 100 relief camps have been set up across the state where food supplies and other required materials have reached, Chief Secretary Karma Gyatso told reporters.

Many villages in the region have been wiped out and the chance of finding survivors was not bright.

After five days of the 6.8 magnitude temblor, stench of bodies buried in the rubble of houses hung heavy in the air. Heavy rains have worsened the situation for rescue workers.

"The pace of the rescue workers is slow due to disrupted road communication and heavy rains. But they are slowly gaining ground," a senior official said.

A five-storey building in Gangtok collapsed and four others adjoining it were also damaged extensively.

At least two persons were trapped under the debris of the collapsed house, which belongs to the state sports secretary, officials said.

The office of United Sikkim floated by football icon Baichung Bhutia was also housed in the building.

"We first escaped to Guma and spent the night there and next morning we started trekking through extremely difficult terrains covered with debris," said Karma Bhutia (30), who arrived in Tung from Lachen after trekking for two days.

Bhutia said several villagers had to crawl some distances in spells since they feared that the wet soil might cave in any moment if they walked on such stretches.

Army sources said 22 engineers and technicians of Poddar Construction, engaged by the Teesta Urja Project, were rescued from Tung, five days after their bus was stranded during the powerful tremor in Sikkim.

"Their bus was halted by a huge boulder and our men rescued them from Tung yesterday. They will be sent to Gangtok today," they said.

15 helicopters of Army and Air Force have been pressed into relief work. For airdropping and reconnaissance, 150 sorties have been carried out so far," an official said.

While nine vital roads, including National Highway 31A and National Highway 55, have been reopened for traffic, two roads Chungthang–Lachen and Chungthan–Lachung continued to remain blocked due to landslide.
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